Opera is just story telling. And The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown is doing it better than ever. It opened its summer season this weekend with lavish new productions of two beloved classics. First came the musical “Show Boat,” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, followed by Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.”
“Show Boat” tells the story of some actors, singers and dancers on a Mississippi riverboat in the late 19th century. Long before Broadway musicals began explicitly dealing with serious issues, “Show Boat,” which debuted in 1927, led the way with honest depictions of racial inequalities and marital strife. But don’t let that put you off, because “Show Boat” is mostly an easy ride, a genuine good time in the theater. There’s lots of fun comedy bits and the score includes the hits “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine.”
This new production is sumptuous on every level. The always bright and colorful stage is dominated by a two-story recreation of the ship. There’s an enormous cast and with two excellent leads -- Lauren Snouffer as Magnolia and Michael Adams as Gaylord. There’s also a good sized chorus plus a high kicking fleet of energetic young dancers. It all makes life on the Mississippi seem like it was a lot of fun.
The second show this weekend is a favorite in the grand tradition of opera, which is the heart and soul of what Glimmerglass does. Now when it comes to operatic tragedies like “La Traviata,” there are no spoiler alerts – you generally know that the heroine is going to die before the final curtain. This new production actually opens with the famous courtesan Violetta in a hospital ward. So once again, there are no secrets.
That somber atmosphere never completely disappears since the hospital’s curved array of tall windows gets repurposed throughout the night. During the course of the opera’s three acts, the single set is recreated into an elegant ballroom, a wintery country house and a ruby red casino. Add to this the golden lighting, the lavish costumes and the extended dance scene, and the whole show has an opulent and traditional feel.
Conductor Joseph Colaneri’s orchestra played with a force and sense of detail to match the stage picture. There was nary a note out of place from the attractive couple playing the leads, soprano Amanda Woodbury as Violetta and tenor Kang Wang as her suitor Alfredo. Their voices were rich and well placed. Baritone Adrian Timpau, as Alfredo’s father Giorgio, sounded especially genuine and spontaneous.
Both “Show Boat” and “La Traviata” continue through August 24th at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown.
Local arts writer Joseph Dalton is the author of Artists and Activitists Making Culture in New York's Capital Region.
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